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Computer tablet provider expects to make $8.8M from inmates

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Selling downloaded entertainment and email service via tablet computers given free of charge to approximately 50,000 inmates in the New York prison system will bring in nearly $9 million in five years for a Florida-based company.

That’s according to the state contract awarded to JPay, the Miami-based prison services vendor that plans to provide the portable devices to inmates at 54 state-run correctional facilities starting later this year.

A copy of the contract provided to by the state comptroller’s office shows JPay expects to make $8.8 million from inmate emails and from their purchases of approved entertainment such as music, movies and e-books.

Officials with the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said the devices won’t have internet access. All transactions will have to be done with the tablets connected to kiosks provided by JPay. Details such as where the kiosks will be located in prisons are still being worked out, DOCCS officials said Friday.

State corrections officials announced last month that the agency had awarded a contract to JPay to provide tablets to every prisoner, at no cost to taxpayers. As of Friday, there are 49,900 inmates in state prisons, DOCCS officials said.

The 7-inch tablets will come downloaded with free educational materials. For emails and entertainment, the contract details how much JPay plans to charge inmates, whose online commissary accounts will be handled in a system being revamped by the company.

JPay will charge 35 cents for every email sent, up to 5,000 characters. The cost of downloading entertainment will range from $1 for a song to $19.99 for an audio book.

Tablets already are being used by inmates in other states. Proponents say the devices can keep inmates linked to family members and provide more education options, vital components in preparing a prisoner for re-entering the community.

Some state lawmakers have criticized the tablet program, saying it gives convicted criminals a luxury many other New Yorkers can’t afford.

“Only in New York is it possible to break the law, go to prison, and receive a free college education and tablet to go along with it,” said Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, a Republican from rural Chenango County. “It’s absolutely disgraceful.”